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Cradling the receiver against her ear, his wife looked at him with a hint of
hostility. On the phone, always on the phone. Today she was wearing too much
champagne-colored lipstick, a thick layer of moss-green eye shadow glopped
sluttishly on her lids. "Be right there," she said, tipping her head back and
blowing smoke into the room.
He glanced at his watch. She'd been on the phone for fifteen minutes now and had
missed the beginning of the movie. Spoiling their daughter's fun. A rainy
Saturday afternoon. Popcorn and Jackie Chan. Rob and Jenna had called a truce.
They'd promised their daughter, Danielle, that they would stop fighting and just
be a family for once. Ha. That was rich. "Who're you talking to?"
"Rita," she said.
"Well, say bye-onara to Rita and come watch the movie with us."
She stared at him blandly. She was using an old cracked cereal bowl for an
ashtray and sat on the kitchen chair like a monkey-knees drawn to her chest,
those lovely peanut-shaped toes curling over the edges of the red vinyl seat. So
sexy-looking in her peach-colored top and vintage jeans with the little holes in
them. Rob had fallen in love with Jenna Kulbeck back in the seventh grade.
Hopelessly, stupidly in love. She'd been such a slovenly, confused kid; born to
poverty. Slutty, even. The school slut-he should've known. A girl so tiny he
used to imagine he could carry her around in his pocket. She brought out his
protective instincts. Shortly after their high school graduation, they'd gotten
married on a grassy knoll surrounded by cottonwoods, and about a month later,
Jenna had announced she was pregnant. After Danielle came three miscarriages in
a row, boom, boom, boom. Three dead little boys named Robert Jr., Victor after
her dad and Farley after his favorite uncle.
"So, Your Highness," he said with as much sarcasm as he could muster, the
tension in him mounting, "you figure on joining us anytime soon?"
"Yeah," she said. "In a minute."
"You said that fifteen minutes ago."
She played deaf.
"All right, fine. Be that way." He opened the refrigerator door and slid a beer
out of the six-pack, pried off the cap. It was warm inside the house, humid.
Almost tropical. He glanced out the window. The overcast sky was looking
ominous. Cauliflower tops, good for the crops. He tossed the beer cap into the
wastebasket and left, advertising his disgust with a dismissive wave of his
hand. But then, out in the hallway, he stood for a guilty moment and
"... you can never ... that asshole ..."
Asshole? Had she just called him an asshole? He peered around the corner and
wondered if she was deliberately trying to provoke him. Her hair was dark and
soft and came to just below her ears. Her glance fixed dully on her cigarette.
She knocked the ash off with a moody finger. Didn't she care? Didn't she care
about her daughter's feelings anymore? Rob was beginning to suspect that his
wife might be having an affair. Too many mysterious phone calls lately, too many
trips out of the house to buy things they absolutely, positively had to have,
like peanut butter or toilet paper or TV Guide.
He stood there pawing at the truth. Was it his fault that their marriage was in
trouble? Well, yeah ... maybe. Maybe it was his fault. He wasn't a rich man.
In the spring, he had to get up at 4:30 A.M. to plant the crops, repair the
combine and execute his fertilizer program. He worked eighteen-hour days, then
collapsed in bed at midnight. Slept like a log. Snored. They hadn't had sex in a
while. Summers and winters were better for sex. Still, why punish Danielle? Why
not punish him and spare their daughter's feelings? With an angry pivot, he
walked back into the kitchen.
"Hold on," Jenna hissed into the receiver. "Now what?"
"How about it?"
"How about what?"
She closed her eyes. Cold. Contemptuous. "I'm on the phone."
You're on the rag. "With Rita?"
"Please." Her toes wiggled independently of one another like the keys on a
player piano. "Go away, Rob."
"Fine. Break your daughter's heart."
He could tell by the stricken look on her face that he'd finally gotten through
to her. Finally, you bitch.
Back in the living room, he gave his fourteen-year-old daughter an "everything's
okay" smile and sat on the floor in front of the bay windows. Danielle preferred
the old wicker chair with its flat, woven arms, whereas Jenna liked to curl up
on the sofa and clutch herself as if she were in danger. He twisted his beer
bottle into the shag to root it, then watched Jackie Chan do some amazing things
with a chair. "Did I miss anything?" he asked.
Danielle rolled her eyes. "Bad guy just tried to kick Jackie Chan's butt, but
Jackie Chan turned the tables on him."
"Turned the chair, you mean."
"Ha ha. Funny, Dad."
"I'm the coolest dad on Planet Earth."
"Kewl as a ghoul."
"Pass the popcorn, pip-squeak."
"Is Mom coming?"
"In a minute."
She slid him a look. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, everything's fine."
He'd been so busy lately, so worried about his crops, he hadn't had time to
consider his wife's needs. When you drove a tractor for eight hours at a
stretch, you didn't feel like doing much of anything afterward. Your ears rang,
your back ached. If she'd grown bored with the farm, there wasn't much he could
do about it. Many years ago, Jenna in her white one-piece bathing suit used to
lie on the carpet in front of him, her tanned back to the cinnamon-colored shag,
and point her toes like a horizontal ballerina. She had such slender legs and
narrow feet and those flexible toes-long, malleable wraparound toes she would
cross and spread apart like the feathers of an opening fan. She would prop her
feet on his thighs and fold all ten toes around his penis and work them up and
down, stubby and grasping as baby fingers. She could even pick up objects with
them-beer bottles and wooden blocks, things as tiny as paper clips.
The wind died suddenly.
Danielle whipped her head around. "What was that?"
He glanced out the window and saw leaves falling out of the sky. He'd developed
a Zen-like attitude about the weather. You got what you got. "Thunder and
lightning," he said. "Good for the crops."
Danielle steadied the bowl of popcorn on the arm of her chair. "Is that the town
He hit the Pause button. "Oh. That. Remember what happened last time it went
She looked at him. "Nothing."
"And the time before that?"
"And the time before that? And the time before that?"
She smiled. "Okay, Dad. You've made your point."
"Good. Now pass the popcorn, little one."
She handed him the bowl, and he glanced around the plant-festooned living room
at the worn armchairs, cluttered coffee table, camping gear in the corner, the
rumpled sleeping bag on the floor, the soundless clock. It was a little past two
in the afternoon, and they had no basement to take shelter in. Another one of
his failings, he supposed. Rob Pepper had neglected to provide his family with a
basement, right here in the middle of Tornado Alley. What a dope. Maybe that was
why Jenna hated him so much. Because of the generations of failure running
through his veins. He glanced out the window and noticed that the clouds were
moving rapidly across the sky now.
"Hey, Dad?" Danielle's long red hair was done up in ponytails today, and she
looked like a little kid in her overalls and candy-apple-red T-shirt. But she
had the same curvaceous figure as her mother, the same heartbreaking radiance to
her skin and animation to her slender limbs that would torment every male
creature she encountered from this point onward. "It's getting positively weird
He touched the lip of the beer bottle to his front teeth and listened to the
rush of wind. The air was humming like a tuning fork. Maybe Jenna was right.
Maybe his whole problem was that he didn't understand anything. He got up and
walked over to the bay window.
Outside, the clouds were whirling and twisting together, and the wheat waved and
rippled. He stared at the boarded-up house across the street where nobody had
lived for many years. The front door was flapping open and shut, as if a parade
of ghosts were heading for the hills. The Peppers lived at the tail end of
Shepherd Street in Promise, Oklahoma, just about the loneliest place on earth.
There was nothing around for miles but winter wheat and circling hawks,
rattlesnakes and a highway sorely in need of repair-a highway that took you
either south to El Reno or north into Munchkinland.
"Dad?" Danielle was tugging on his shirtsleeve, a hint of wildness in her eyes.
"Holy cow, this is major!"
He followed her gaze and noticed the funnel cloud reeling across the wheat
toward them. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and screamed. The funnel
was miles away but rushing toward them fast, heaving surges of dirt into the
air. They had to seek shelter immediately. He wouldn't have time to free his
"Jenna," he yelled. "Get your butt in here!"
"Mom?" Danielle wailed.
She met them in the doorway, looking flustered as hell. "What is it? What's
"A tornado," Rob said, "and it's coming up fast."
"You're kidding, right?" She headed for the front door, but he yanked her
sharply back inside. "Ow!" Her hands groped for him, fingers twitching. She had
long, sharp nails, and he let her go. "Don't grab me like that, you asshole!"
"Mom," Danielle pleaded, looking at her parents with the concern of a child
whose emotional range and maturity had somehow far outstripped theirs.
Jenna stood rubbing her arm, nursing imagined wounds. Her eyes grew soft in her
rigid face. "Let's get in the bathroom, quick!" she said.
"No, wait," Rob told her. "We want to be in the center of the house ... not
the southwest corner."
"You're supposed to get to a small, windowless room on the first floor ...
like a closet or a bathroom."
"Don't argue with me, Jenna. That corner of the house is gonna buckle first."
Her eyes seemed sunken, cautious.
"Front hallway. Now!"
They kept a flashlight in the chest of drawers supporting the TV set, and Rob
clicked it on. A clatter of wind blew the window shades into the room. He
snatched the cushions off the couch and scooped up the old sleeping bag. Covered
in cat hairs, it made him sneeze. He'd read somewhere: Old blankets, quilts and
mattresses can help protect you and your family against flying debris.
The three of them met in the front hallway, where he made a nest out of the
cushions and sleeping bag, then Danielle folded herself down into it with her
chin on her chest, while Jenna wrapped her arms protectively around her.
"Be right back," Rob said, bounding up the stairs.
The second floor groaned like a person in pain. Some of the upstairs windows
were open, and he found himself trapped in a strange eddy of currents. Rooted to
the spot, unable to move. What was that noise? It sounded like a hundred
helicopters hovering above their white frame house, banking this way and that.
For a few terrifying moments, this strange air current tossed him about like a
tree swaying in a gale, and then, abruptly, it released him.
With a burning sensation in his chest, Rob hurried down the hallway into the
master bedroom, where he tore the covers off the bed, grasped the polyester
mattress by its thin elastic handles and lugged it off of the box spring and
onto the floor. Then he paused to rummage through the big oak dresser for his
brown billholder with all their credit cards and insurance papers inside. He
tucked the billholder into the waistband of his jeans, then dragged the mattress
down the stairs.
Back in the narrow front hallway, he propped the mattress diagonally against the
wall, and the three of them hunkered together inside the crevice. He wrapped his
arms around his wife and child and waited. There was nothing softer in this
world, he thought, than his daughter's gentle breathing.
"Shit!" Jenna fiddled with the radio, getting nothing but static across the
dial. "C'mon, talk to us ..."
Rob crouched over them in that pitiful excuse for a hallway and met her angry
gaze. Her mouth was stitched shut, as if this were somehow all his fault. Go
ahead, blame me. He realized he was no prize with his eccentric nose and
out-of-date pants, but he was a good provider, dammit. She should be thankful.
"Where's Bullette?" Danielle suddenly asked.
"Shh, honey. Cats are smart. He'll find himself a good hiding place," Rob told
As if on cue, above the rattling windowpanes, they could hear a plaintive meow.
"Bullette!" Her eyes filled with hot, terrified tears. "Daddy, go save him!"
"Shh, we have to stay put."
She began to weep convulsively, and Jenna stared at Rob over their daughter's
quaking shoulders, a sodium stain from the flashlight playing across her grim
features. "Go get the cat," she said.
"Bullette!" Danielle screamed, her fist jerking to her mouth. "Daddy, go help
Oh great. Just by doing nothing, he'd drawn the full weight of his wife's
displeasure. Before she could get really vehement about it, he gripped the
long-handled flashlight and crawled out from underneath their makeshift lean-to.
Almost instantly, a bitter chill engulfed him. Goose bumps prickled his arms as
he swung the flashlight in an arc across the thin-legged mahogany mail table his
grandfather had built nearly fifty years ago; past the wooden coat stand choked
with rain slickers and the old picture frames clattering against the faded
wallpaper. All he could hear was the wind, thunderous and cascading.
Get the cat. Ridiculous.
He crawled along the hardwood floor on his hands and knees, moving like a poorly
wired robot toward the kitchen. The thunder sounded strange-no rolling echo,
just a thick-throated boom. Boom. Abrupt, like bombs dropping. The air was a
swift current, hard to maneuver through. Jesus, help me. He crawled past the
hallway chair with its stout oak legs and shone his light around the corner into
The calico cat was crouched in the crevice between the stove and cabinet. Rob
could see its glowing eyes.
"Here, kitty ..."
The cat tensed and stared at him. Blink.
"C'mere, you mutt!"
It arched its back and fled.
"Fuck." Rob craned his neck, nerves raw, then heard a crackling sound, distantly
sinister, and a thunderous bang that made his whole body quake. He covered his
head just as glass shattered above him and a violent wind came rushing in.
Screaming in his ears. Swirling up into his face. The seconds ticked past
Excerpted from THE BREATHTAKER
by Alice Blanchard
Copyright © 2003 by Alice Blanchard.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 3, 2011
From beginning to end, this story was hypnotizing. I could not stop thinking about it after I put it down for the night. I even dreamed about tornadoes because of it.
Posted April 7, 2006
This was seriously a thrill ride.I would read it again and again.It all comes together at the end for the final throwdown.This book excites me to the bone.This was honestly an outstanding piece of work.Breathtaker will take you on the dark side of the ride.So,expect what you would not.I don't think any book could ever be like Alice Blanchard's Breathtaker!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 18, 2006
The title of the book is ¿The Breathtaker¿. The author of ¿The Breathtaker' is Alice Blanchard. The genre of the ¿The Breathtaker¿ is Mystery. The important/main characters of ¿The Breathtaker¿ are Charlie Grover (Police Chief), Sophie Grover (Charlie¿s daughter), Issac Grover (Charlie¿s father), Rick Kripner (Wind Specialty), and Dr. Willa Bellman (Wind Specialty). This novel is about a guy that chases tornadoes, kills innocent people, and steals a tooth out of their mouth. The police chief tries to figure out who the killer is. An quote that kind-of explains the book is, ¿ She thought she saw a figure moving around inside the dark, chaotic house and chased the phantom with her eyes.¿ An important quote would have to be, ¿Inside the old-fashion mason jar were dozens of extracted human teeth, mixed with animal teeth.¿ I would give this book a rating of a 10. It is a pretty lengthy book, it is 391 pages long. It is kind-of difficult, but worth it. It has a lot of descriptive details. I absolutely recommend this book. It is a book you can not put down. This is a book you could read over and over againWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2005
Posted October 14, 2005
This is a unique thriller as not only you have a killer on the loose, but this killer does his work when tornadoes hit the towns. I enjoyed the suspense this novel created and as a fan of tornado chasing, I felt the book had double the thrill factor. A very good read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2004
Once in a while a book comes around that gives you what you hope for in the genre and a little bit more. This is one of those books. Wonderfully written, with a captivating cast of characters and perfectly-paced plot, The Breathtaker surprised me at nearly every turn... when it wasn't busy tugging my emotions this way and that. Sheriff Charlie Grover is one of the better suspense book heroes I've seen in a long time. Caught between the dark events of his past and mistrust of his future, he struggles to keep it all together as a serial killer pays a visit to his town and ultimately threatens his own daughter. All the while, Charlie must deal with a difficult father whom he suspects is responsible for killing his own mother and baby sister many, many years ago... but was it an accident or a deliberate act? It's the not knowing that keeps you turning the pages of this one. The reader will struggle between their eagerness to find out against the desire to savor every page of this excellent novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2004
I really enjoyed this thriller. It combined nature and police procedural in a new and inventive way. The characters were well-portrayed, especially the daughter of the police chief, who was believably vulnerable and rebellious. So many of these stories take a character like her and make her stupid in order to put her in jeopardy, but this one did it right. Above all, this was scary as all hell at times. This author knows psychological horror.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 7, 2004
Posted April 19, 2004
This concept is a little out there in terms of plausibility, but I went along with it and really enjoyed the story. The characters are exceptional, especially the hero, Charlie Grover, who is dealing with as much internal chaos as external. Kind of a convergence of both happening when this story takes place. I also really liked the peripheral characters, such as the native american cop from the other town. The author has a way of making you root for people before you're sure what kind of people they are. All the tornado stuff was outstanding, too. Recommend!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 4, 2004
Although the plot is too original, and unquestionably far-fetched, the novel succeeded in providing hours of captivating entertainment. After all, the story is a work of fiction. Keeping that fact in mind, one becomes 'sucked in' to the twisters that descriptively come to life every few chapters.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2004
The Breathtaker nails it. It's an unusually powerful, emotional and literary novel built around a brilliant concept. I think this writer feels it in her bones. It's beyond good, it's brilliant.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2004
This was an amazing book. A real page turner! It definately kept me guessing all the way to the end. Her details were wonderful, you could almost feel what was happening as it was packed full of suspense, heartbreak, and real emotions. I only hoped the author would have wrapped it up with all characters included somehow, for closure! Overall, it was one of the best books I have ever read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2004
This book was very disappointing on two levels. For one thing, I have been through a tornado and there is no reasonable way that someone could kill people during one and not get killed or injured themselves. There would not be time for anyone to be pulling teeth either, that part was just silly. Also, the print is large and the margins are wide. Not a good value for your reading dollars.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2004
This just won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for BEST SUSPENSE NOVEL of 2003. To quote: 'In a word-wow! Blanchard has outdone herself in this unique and mesmerizing thriller. With both an angry Mother Nature and a deranged serial killer on the loose, THE BREATHTAKER grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. An astonishing ride!'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2004
This book is like the poor man's version of 'Twister' meets 'CSI.' I was highly disappointed since these fellow critics gave it rave reviews. I think the whole serial killer-murder-mystery genre has been played out to the point that authors are REALLY starting to reach when it comes to new and exciting plots. This one just didn't make sense. The killer follows around tornadoes and makes it look as though the tornado killed the victim--give me a break! And then the whole teeth thing--just didn't fit into the story or make ANY sense. Very disappointing and silly read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2004
This book was great. I couldnt put it down. I thought that tornadoes and weather were going to be put on the backburner because of the murders (Im a giant fan of weather), but her descriptions of the storms and other events made me feel like I was right there, watching the storm happen. It was a very creative murder mystery, tieing in mother nature with your typical psycho killer. I havent read a book quite like this before.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2004
The premise of this book is highly unrealistic. If you have ever seen firsthand the destruction from a tornado you would know that people don't walk around committing murders while one is in progress. Good grief! It may sound 'thrilling' but it's ridiculous!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2004
This thriller asks, 'What is possible?' Blanchard wants us to stretch our imaginations out of the confines of the familiar. You have to step outside the box and look around. The killer IS the storm. Great book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2004
I did like this book somewhat-and read it quickly- however I agree with the other reader who felt it was unrealistic. The 'tooth' part especially!! But, keeping in mind that it really was unlikely any of this could happen- it still was kind of fun to read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2004
A tooth pulling, tornado chasing, serial killer? Are you kidding me? I couldn't believe I was wasting my time on this book. Has the author ever been in a tornado? Having actually lived through a tornado I can't imagine something so silly as someone making the effort to do the things this wacko was doing in the middle of a natural disaster. I also wish she or her editor would have realized that in Oklahoma, the nightly news is at 10pm not 11pm.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.